A lesson to be learned

Being a huge Lord of the Rings and J. R.R. Tolkien fan, I will be the first to agree, with both hands clapping, that the Lord of the Rings movies released thus far are visual masterpieces. With amazing dialogue, casting, production, effects, and direction, both films should be held highly in the world of Oscar nominations, critical literary circles, and the arts communities at large. But amidst all the effects, we may fail to see that these movies, based on Tolkien’s books, have larger parallels to real world events and current issues. The author who wrote these splendid books created a world of more history than fantasy, more reality than meets the eye.

Professor Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings between 1936 and 1949, at a time when his efforts were halted by war and his devotion to teaching. He created a world that was no doubt shaped in some way by the experiences of that time. His world was shaped by the outbreak of the world wars, his concern about the environment, his growing loathing for war and his religious nature. While he himself discouraged anyone from seeing his works as allegorical, they turned out to be very symbolic. Considering this as a critical student of society, I reason that these are in no way the parallels Tolkien made of the books himself, but only parallels I make today.

Both the Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers (as well as the third installment, Return of the King), represent our world more closely than we may think. One of the central tenets of the Lord of the Rings tale is the evident struggle between good and evil, although this is presented in shades of grey not just black and white. There are evident bad guys, including Sauron, Saruman in Orthanc, the Orcs, the fighting Uruk-Hai, and all the evil beasts and birds that serve as spies of Sauron and Saruman. The good guys are of course the Fellowship, the Elves, the Shire folk, the Ents, and all the enemies of the One Ring and His Precious. But as we start to see, particularly in the second movie, there are constant character conflicts presented.

Gollum is torn by his former self Smeagol and his desire to help Frodo save the ring from Sauron. Frodo is torn by the urge to put the ring on and give up the quest as he feels its incredible weight and his desire to complete the task of destroying the ring. Aragorn is torn by his love for Arwen and his destiny as Isildur’s heir to the throne of Gondor. Overall, members of the Fellowship experience constant conflicts between what is right and wrong, what is the proper path to take, and what their part is in this complex tale.

This tale sees evil and good, evil mixed with good, and good turned to evil. In other words, it represents all sides of humanity. We see that even though we have come so far today in our world of technological evolution, as humans we have remained the same, and the struggle within ourselves is age old. The struggle is between corruption and morals, between what is good for us and what may be bad but easier to accomplish, between the many different conflicting interests and responsibilities in our lives. The movie, above all, represents the struggles of humanity.

Another parallel that can be made between the movies, the books and our world is the destructiveness of machinery. Tolkien began writing at a time of great industrialization, when he was shipped off to fight in the First World War, and when great weapons of war were being manufactured.

This was the time of the machine and Tolkien’s war experiences left him loathing war and the clanks of big machinery. This is represented in Saruman and his army of Orcs. In Orthanc, Saruman’s stronghold, we see the Orcs, filthy, evil creatures, ripping down trees with all their hate, and turning the great wheels of machinery to make the weapons and armour for the Uruk-Hai they are breeding for the war against the people of Middle-Earth. Smoke rises, the circles of Isengard fill with boiling fumes and stench, and the machines keep working, enslaving the Orcs in the giant clockwork. Indeed, in The Two Towers, we see the great entrapments of the bred servant of war, the fighting Uruk-Hai, and the spectacular battle at Helm’s Deep in the end. We see leaders of war making decisions in haste, for the wrong reasons of power and domination, and the tolls these wars have on everyone.

The parallels are incredible with the situation of the world today, as nations pursue war, threats of terrorism fill the news, and leaders promise victory in a holy war.

The reasons for war are never simple. The ugliness which comes with the machinery of war is brilliantly shown in this movie, and should be applied to our present situation.

As Joseph Campbell said in his speech to students at Sarah Lawrence College in 1940:

“Perhaps our students must prepare themselves to remember (without any support from our institutions of higher learning) that there are two sides to every argument, that every government, since governments began, has claimed to represent the special blessings of the heavenly realm, that every man (even an enemy) is human, and that no empire (not even a merchant empire) is founded in ‘kindly helpfulness.'”

This applies to the students of society as well.

Finally, I will mention one more parallel, although many other things should be taken from the movie. This concerns the Ents, the ancient tree shepherds of Fangorn Forest. In the books and the movie, we discern an ancient, wise race of trees, trees that have been around for millennia and are older than most of the Elves. These trees that have human voices and human locomotion. The Ents’ human qualities are particularly striking in light of the environmental voice of the books and movie. If trees had a human voice we would pay more attention to what they were saying. This applies to all things that do not have their own voice, particularly nature.

However, as we see in the movie, the voice of nature is strong and its power is even stronger. This is shown in the greatness and strength of the Ents, when they destroy Isengard, entrapping Saruman in his tower. Nature showed its true voice and power when the Ents went to war, and released the waters of Isengard which destroyed all the Orcs and machines surrounding it.

The message is that nature is more powerful than anything. If we treat it with respect, it will nourish us as it has done for centuries. If we ignore it or abuse it, thinking that we dominate all things without an apparent voice, we must face the consequences.

The connection between humans and nature is evident in the many natural disasters around the world. What happens in nature happens to us. Merry pointed out to the Ents when he said “you are a part of this world.”

Beautiful things in our world are dying, as the story of the Ents and passing of the Elves represents. Beautiful, honest, simple things. They do not have to, however, and it is up to us to make sure that they don’t, and most of all, recognize them for the incredible value they hold.

Ultimately, Lord of the Rings teaches that we must never feel that we are too small to make a change in the world. The lesson that Frodo learns is relevant to the current times. For when we see a small hobbit contending with the incredible and enormous powers of Mordor, and when all hope seems to go into despair, remember what Galadriel said to Frodo: “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

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